Mayer McCheese, and other (hater-ish) thoughts on music
I was listening to the radio in the car last weekend when I heard John Mayer performing a solo acoustic version of "Message in a Bottle," played in front of what sounded like a crowd made up mostly of women who were ready to sleep with him on the spot.
First time I'd heard his cover of the song, and I liked his arrangement for the acoustic guitar, but as always I just couldn't get past his voice, which sounds like a cross between Dave Matthews and a tracheotomy patient. (Guess I'm not the only one who thinks Mayer sounds like a Dave Matthews ripoff, since it's pointed out in the Amazon review of his second album.)
Seriously, what's with the breathy voice? What would happen if John Mayer just opened his mouth and sang in his normal vocal tone, without affecting the rasp of a Ground Zero rescue worker? We don't know, because he never does it.
The other frustrating thing about Mayer is that he insists on performing mostly wimp rock -- a category that includes James Blunt, Five for Fighting and The Plain White Ts, among others -- despite the fact that he's a really good guitar player who's received the blessing of such elder statesmen of blues and rock as B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
He came onstage for the encore with Galactic at Jazz Fest in 2007 (pictured above) -- I remember thinking he was having an "I'm Keith Hernandez" moment, wearing aviators, his curly locks blowing in the wind, Jessica Simpson perhaps awaiting him backstage -- and joined the band for a smoking cover of "Immigrant Song." (Available on iTunes. It's a muddy mix, but you can make out Mayer's contribution.)
Mayer's a smart, talented guy, but why he opts into the wimp rock category, other than the fact that it's wildly lucrative, will always be a mystery to me.
Speaking of odd singing voices, I'm reminded of the fact that I dislike The Killers. Why does Brandon Flowers sing like he was born in the United Kingdom? The band is from Las Vegas.
More than that, I don't like the songs themselves. "Somebody Told Me" is meh, and I absolutely loathed "Mr. Brightside." Like pretty much all the music I'm oppressed by whenever I turn on the radio, The Killers don't write particularly good melodies and they don't have any rhythm. What's left? Attitude? Style of dress? Doesn't really do it for me.
And I know I'm late on this, but I've been meaning to say something about their recent single "Human." Flowers has gotten a lot of grief over the lyrics, specifically the chorus, which asks, "Are we human, or are we dancer?" You'll notice the lack of an "s," which has emerged as a minor pop-cultural conundrum. What the F is he talking about? Is it a reference to a little-known, extinct hominid relative, homo dancer? It's unclear.
Flowers was reportedly frustrated by fans' reaction to the lyrics, saying, "I guess it bothers people that it’s not grammatically correct, but I think I’m allowed to do whatever I want.”
And that's true, he has creative license to write songs as he sees fit. But the audience has something called listener's license, which is the right to point out that his song sucks.
Flowers says he got the idea for the song from a line by Hunter S. Thompson, one that I'm unfamiliar with: "We're raising a generation of dancers." Flowers acknowledged to a reporter that the song is a "mild social statement." Is he actually criticizing members of younger generations for being somehow "soft" or insubstantial? Because that's hard to take from a guy who struts around the stage in eyeliner and a jacket with epaulettes made of feathers.
Flowers has described the song as a cross between the Pet Shop Boys and Johnny Cash, but I don't hear the Johnny Cash part. The Pet Shop Boys influence comes through loud and clear, but the Cash thing not so much.
Moreover, if I were a fan of The Killers, I'd be a bit discouraged to hear Flowers describe the Pet Shop Boys as a major influence. And I'd be downright depressed to learn that, worse, there is in fact a "Pet Shop Boys side of the band," consisting of Flowers and the guitarist. What kind of rock and roll all-star team would you have to enlist to play bass and drums to make up for the fact that the other half of the band takes its cues from the men responsible for "West End Girls"?
Not everyone is hating on Flowers, though. Austin Scaggs (son of Boz), of Rolling Stone, wrote: "We've had this argument with so many people, and we always stand up for Brandon -- that his use of 'dancer' is fuckin' rad."
Wow, that's some analysis. This guy is a senior editor at Rolling Stone? Yikes.